For our blog OnArtandAesthetics.com, we interact with artists of all sorts from all over the world. Some are highly accomplished with more commission requests than they can handle, others literally struggling to make ends meet. What works and what doesn’t in this business? Based on our communications and observations of the past three years, we have put together a list of tips that may help emerging painters, sculptors and photographers succeed in their careers.
1. Remember that Art Isn’t Functional or Practical or Necessary
…in the way that a bottle of water is or a laptop is or a doctor’s services are. Nobody needs art for survival. This shouldn’t discourage you. Instead, an acknowledgement of the fact can actually set you free and make you realise that the onus is really—considerably on you—to convince others that you have something valuable to convey and offer in your paintings or sculptures or photographs that could and should be bought. When you accept that art isn’t “required by anybody” for sustenance you will be galvanised into action and make a greater effort to present yourself to the world.
So if people don’t need art to survive, what is its purpose? We would say, it helps one to thrive. It nourishes people’s minds and souls. What art really does is it deepens our awareness of ourselves, the world, nature, existence, and also adds a certain meaningfulness and sophistication to our surroundings. The ultimate intellectual and spiritual role of art may even be priceless, simply incapable of being measured and fixed in monetary terms but, overall, in day-to-day life, as a decorative object, a beautiful painting or sculpture or photograph can be afforded and pursued only by those who have already overcome needs and requirements that are more fundamental, basic, concrete and tangible (food, shelter, healthcare, clothes, a college degree, useful electronic devices, a rewarding job, rent, mortgage, the presence of family and friends). This means that as an artist you must be ready to do some real hard work. Still, thankfully, we live in a capitalistic world that can reward you beyond your expectations if just work in accordance with its principles. So be energised, be excited and seize opportunities!
2. Invest in a Professional Website
We shouldn’t even be mentioning this but we have to because we continue to come across artists (and talented ones) who still operate .blogspot webpages that they will update three or four times a year. And, unsurprisingly, they are also the ones who complain a lot—about the market, the world in general. A professional website is the first thing you should have. There is no proper career without a proper online presence. Make sure your website is attractive yet simple, free of annoying audio and plugins. Ideally, it should contain the following—a Biography, a CV, a Portfolio with all your projects well arranged and summarised, a Press/Publications area, a News/Updates heading, a Contact page with your email and all social media addresses (you may have a form but your email should be clearly visible; a hidden email address often deters visitors from getting in touch with the website owner). Lastly, do not put information or images unrelated to you. They will distract the visitor and divert their attention from you and your work.
3. Create Social Media Pages and Keep Them Updated
Be active on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram. Try updating your accounts weekly or at least twice a month with information on latest projects, events you have participated in, plans for the future, things about the world you appreciate or are critical of, and more. Whenever you make a sale, ask the buyer to take a picture of your work installed in their home or office and share it with your audience. Whenever you post an image of your art, add two-four descriptive sentences on the subject along with the title, size and details on the material.
4. Use Photos of Yourself
Yes, unless anonymity is an integral element of your practice (like Banksy), don’t hesitate to reveal how you look to the world. People want to know you—not really how handsome/beautiful or not-so-handsome/beautiful you may be—but your “persona”.
5. Develop a Distinctive Visual Vocabulary
It is good to be influenced by movements of the past—Classicism, the Baroque, Romanticism, Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism or anything else. You can incorporate their stylistic precepts and even thematic stuff in your work. But if you want to attain commercial and critical clout, you must craft a visual language of your own and be consistent in your adherence to it. You do not have to become rigid and give up experimentation. But as you exercise flexibility, you could try to retain something in either your form or your content that indicates the work is a product of your mind and not anybody else’s. It must speak of your identity, highlight your individuality.
6. Take a Stand
You will become more recognisable and comprehensible if you have a statement to make, have something solid to say (even if you are only asking questions and not providing any definite answers). If you have some kind of position to hold, you will add more meaning to your artistic practice. A position could be as simple and direct as an affection for the past and a desire for the conservation of culture (as displayed by Singaporean muralist Yip Yew Chong) or more complex like a sense of gratitude and a striving towards moral excellence (as displayed by the American painter David Ligare).